My Big 'I AM'
When I was nine years old I read out a story to my class at school. It was a self-composed piece about a clumsy apprentice clown, named Cocoa, who was never allowed to perform his tricks as they would inevitably end in disaster. One day Cocoa’s master, the circus’ head clown, dropped down dead (it was at this point I sensed a couple of classmates shuffling toward the Where’s Wally shelf in Reading Corner). Cocoa donned his master’s costume and performed in the big show. Everything went wrong, but the crowd loved it! They thought it was all part of the act. They cheered and applauded…and Cocoa hadn’t needed to change the way he was. The End.
I can’t remember if anyone clapped. I only remember a few smiles, a few frowns and Miss Mason trying to peel a bawling Keeley Herbert away from her leg. Perhaps Keeley was brought to tears by the beauty of my underdog tale. Perhaps she was confused when Cocoa’s first instinct was to strip the dead clown and assume his identity, with no mention of whether an ambulance was called. What can I say? I’ve always loved leaving stories a little open.
At the age of nine, did I feel like a writer? No. Of course not. Five minutes after story time I was probably running outside with my mates, hand under my armpit trying to make fart noises (it’s fine dear reader…take a break for a moment and revel in the unquenchable urge for under-arm nostalgic play), yet this was the first sign I had a passion for writing. Indeed, it’s the first place I start in response to the question “So, did you always want to be a writer?”…the same question nobody asked before I started writing this post.
Whenever somebody does ask that question, there is a voice somewhere in my subconscious. The volume is very low level, but the force is felt in my entire body and mind. Something egoic hardens when another person confirms back to me that, yes…I AM A WRITER.
I AM A WRITER. For many years I didn’t have the confidence to call myself a writer before a few short stories, sketches and stage plays later it felt just about acceptable. Finally I could indulge in the romanticised image of the red-wine-swigging, late-night-working tortured soul keeping the wolf from the door with scraps thrown to me from the odd piece of script or copy, as well as the occasional job as an extra on Casualty, of course.
When I started earning money writing stories for online training courses, full time, I really WAS a writer. The pay and support was generous too. I had no qualms in jumping to the I AM. Strangers were impressed – or at least the raised eyebrow and head tilt suggested they were, though they were probably hoping I wrote for Doctor Who rather than jazzing up a health and safety video. Friends would sound thoroughly supportive that I was getting paid to do something I loved, some a little jealous perhaps. It’s understandable then that a few people were confused when I decided to leave that job.
Why walk away? There was a realisation that my I AM was causing me to be truly, deeply unhappy. I had a great boss who believed in me, and I was earning money to write – not exactly a residency at The National Theatre but a stepping stone nonetheless - with plenty of rich learning opportunities. Yet my mental health was suffering and, parting on good terms, I quit with nothing to go to except for a little freelance acting to pay the bills…just. For a few months I didn’t write anything about anything.
In January this year, I had the intention of writing again by starting a blog. I’d just begun living and working voluntarily for a year on a meditation retreat in Devon (where I’m still living at the time of writing) and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share my experience with the world. It’s now November and that blog never happened. I AM A WRITER…and yet there was something fundamentally wrong with my desire to write.
I fully appreciate that living on retreat, where I meditate a lot as part of my role facilitating for others, has given me a slight advantage in gaining some insight into what was going on for me. I came to the realisation that I loved writing, shaping stories – whether fictional or just retelling a story in my own way, as I am now - but much of the time I’d been doing it entirely for the wrong reasons. In fact, mostly I was doing it for other people or the expectations I was putting on myself – a huge reason why I took the aforementioned, well-paid writing job was I wanted to be a provider for my then partner and her daughter…very much a self-imposed expectation. There’s a whole other I AM around masculinity which is for another time.
The blog didn’t happen - not because I didn’t have anything to say, but I would’ve been using it as my way of saying to friends and others who knew my occupational label “Don’t forget me. I am still here, my identity intact. I am still a writer!” At times I think I’ve written whole plays for exactly that reason.
The big I AM for me was being a writer. With time (and meditation) I have come to the realisation that writing is just something I do. Among other things I also sleep, eat, watch football, enjoy walks, love friends, go to the toilet…maybe not all appropriate responses to “So what do you do?” at a dinner party, depending on who you’re speaking to I suppose.
Am I a writer? Yes, I am. Absolutely. Though it is just one aspect of me and, most importantly, by not letting the I AM rule me I have found it immensely liberating to rediscover the pleasure in what I do. Harking back to when the nine-year-old me wasn’t using an occupational label to traumatise my classmates. I wrote for the joy of it - the trauma was a secondary bonus/future opportunity for growth in therapy.
As for where I am now, I’m actually writing. And enjoying it! I’m writing a play for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival called The Spider Glass which dismantles a few other I AMs in myself and others; namely I AM A MAN and the crippling messages and behaviours that exist due to a lack of nuanced understanding of the masculine and feminine in our society.
Yes, my ego pops up with anxious thoughts of audience opinions, reviews, my ‘brand’ image - if there is such a thing - but acknowledging the egoic voice and allowing it to be there, yet not letting it take over, can bring me back to the parts I enjoy. Those juicy bits that are just for me and my own exploration. Ironically such a project may help benefiting others anyway. I hope it does. Time will tell.
This post is not here to publicise my play (I’ll be promoting the shit out of The Spider Glass at some point, rest assured) and this post isn’t about encouraging traffic to my site…so hopefully Google Analytics will stop emailing me. I take great pleasure that this post isn’t here simply because I AM A WRITER either.
This is here cos I felt like writing it. And should you be reading this (thank you), there is an invitation to consider which ‘I AM’ you may be letting rule you. Whether it’s gender, occupation, parental role, religion or something else, we all behave in a way that conforms to those labels. All of us. How can you not when the messages flung at us from every direction, whether through your interactions with others or via a screen, tell you that you need to be a certain way to reinforce your I AM? But through being aware of our egoic voice we can become aware that we have a choice –to be that I AM only some of the time and therefore not allow it to govern our lives and behaviour all of the time. We have the choice to joyfully be ourselves.
So, sometimes I AM NOT A WRITER. And that’s okay…in fact I’m happier for it. I invite you to be okay with whatever you are sometimes NOT too. Yet rather than dropping those ‘I AMs’, perhaps we just need new ones. For instance:
I AM CONSTANTLY CHANGING.
I AM AWARE OF MY THOUGHTS AND MY BEHAVIOUR.
I AM SOMEBODY, WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.
And perhaps the most useful to every one of us…I AM HUMAN.
…or maybe, if there is a something to take away, we should just learn from Cocoa and be the way we are and everything will turn out fine…though of course always call an ambulance if a clown dies!